The Sandman Showrunner Discusses the Netflix Adaptation’s Story Changes

When it comes to telling a story, Dream of the Endless is a master. Even Allan Heinberg is aware of this fact.

As the showrunner of Netflix’s The Sandman said, he first read Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg’s legendary comic as a college student and has always wanted to adapt it. Heinberg has worked on television shows like Grey’s Anatomy and The OC for the past decade, where his real-life comic obsession inspired Adam Brody’s character Seth Cohen. However, he soon ran into a problem.

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“I’ve now been making TV and movies professionally for 24 years, so I reread the books specifically with an eye toward, ‘How am I gonna be able to do this?'” Heinberg says. “Then I called [producer] David [S. Goyer] back and said, ‘I can’t do it. It’s impossible.’ To pull this off, so much of it would have to change regarding how we approach the material.”

The Sandman Showrunner Discusses the Story Changes

Finally, the fears of Heinberg were allayed. Gaiman was on board with making more changes for the TV version of The Sandman after adapting it almost word for word as an Audible audiobook. Some of the page-to-screen changes, like casting black actresses Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Vanesu Samunyai to play characters depicted as white in the original comic, were merely cosmetic. Others, however, had to do with how the tales were told.

In “24/7,” an adaptation of The Sandman #6 (a horror story titled “24 Hours”), a powerful madman uses reality-warping powers to terrorize customers of a 24-hour diner in the fifth episode of the series. John Dee (David Thewlis) is a villain in the film, but the filmmakers wanted to give him a more comprehensible reason for his actions. For both comics and audiobooks, they decided to forgo the narration that is so integral to both (where Gaiman himself fills the role of the omniscient narrator). Netflix’s The Sandman has no narration except for a brief voiceover in the first episode by Dream actor Tom Sturridge.

The Sandman Showrunner Netflix Adaptation
The Sandman Showrunner Netflix Adaptation

“24 Hours is a perfect example of a story where the majority of dialogue is people ordering their meal from a waitress, and Neil handles the majority of drama as the narrator, who’s telling you what’s going on in their hearts and dreams” Heinberg says. “We essentially had to rewrite it and do it as a play, where if you’re sitting out in the audience and you’re watching people come on stage, everything has to be revealed in their interactions with each other. We can’t tell the audience what’s going on at any point. We didn’t veer away from the material, but the way it’s presented and you meet the characters is very different.”

The first 12 issues of the comic book are adapted into the 10 episodes of The Sandman currently airing on Netflix. Rather than being a series of stand-alone stories (like Howell-Death, Baptiste’s, for example), the second half of the season is an adaptation of the novella The Doll’s House. Although Samunyai’s Rose and her friends are well-known to readers, many adaptations were necessary due to Dream’s frequent absence from The Doll’s House events in the comic.

According to Heinberg, “those last four episodes behaved like a TV show, where you have one cast, and you actually have sets that you go back to. Whereas, in the first six episodes, we feature a cast of six and six distinct worlds. We wanted to do both as a TV show and serialized drama, but we couldn’t tell any stories that didn’t advance Dream’s story.”

Jed Karanja (Eddie Karanja) is held hostage by two monstrous entities, Brute, and Glob, who defy Dream’s authority and style themselves the lords of their own dreaming fiefdom in the comic book. Lyta (a.k.a. Hector Hall) and her husband, the Sandman (a.k.a. Hector Hall), convince Jed that he is their ward and sidekick.

Jed’s story arc is distinct from that of Hector (Lloyd Everitt) and Lyta in the Netflix series. A renegade nightmare, Gault (Ann Ogbomo) watches over Jed instead of Brute and Glob as the Sandman. Even though Hector has long since passed away, Lyta still dreams of him. As Lucienne is depicted as a different ethnicity and gender from the comics, the conflict between Dream and his lieutenant over Gault’s disobedience is even more poignant.

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